You can sell your idea

Idea theft: tips for dealing with colleague theft

Good ideas are a success factor in many professions. Those who advance the team with their ingenuity and provide important impulses will make a name for themselves and increase the reputation of the boss. Just stupid if the colleagues get through Idea theft enrich and simply sell thoughts as their own. According to surveys, almost every second German employee has already experienced such an idea theft. Decorating yourself with strange feathers can lead to discussions and a bad working atmosphere - and of course you feel deceived and exploited. In the best case, teamwork should work without such theft of thoughts, but if not, it is important that you protect yourself from the theft of ideas and react to them correctly ...

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

Idea theft in the office: Beware of idea thieves

The The phenomenon of theft of ideas is unfortunately not uncommon in the job. Especially in creative professions and intellectual service sectors such as consulting, it happens again and again that colleagues adopt the thoughts of others and then present them. After all, you can position yourself positively in your job and in meetings, especially with good and innovative ideas, and recommend yourself for your next promotion. Stupid only if one no ideas of your own come to mind…

Many a colleague may ask innocently: "What would you do in this or that situation?" or he or she asks for advice - only to then run to the boss and the whole thing as his solution. Even more annoying when you entrust your not-yet-fully-developed idea to a colleague - and he'll show off it in the next meeting. That is more than unfriendly and bold.

Quite a few apologize for the theft with the argument that you always need someone brave to speak the truth - and you are too shy, too slow, too skeptical, … been. Sure, with such a cheeky idea thief and Self-promoter throbbing the artery up to the neck.

In addition to the anger and frustration, there is one question that is burning on the soul: What was the colleague thinking about when the idea was stolen? After all, it must also be clear to him that you are noticing that someone else is presenting your idea to the boss. The goal is actually always the same: pure self-interest. Ideas from others are stolen in order to advance their own careers and to collect plus points from the boss.

In order to be professionally successful, some people do not even think about stealing an idea - or they deliberately do not care what the stolen employee thinks of it and whether the relationship then breaks up.

Come in addition: Opportunity makes thieves. Since teamwork is preached almost everywhere and collaboration is in the foreground, there are more than enough of exactly these opportunities. Knowledge is shared, ideas exchanged and discussed everywhere. This is the only way to create a creative process to achieve common goals. However, it becomes problematic when an individual from the group sells the ideas as his own.

Please do not get this wrong: It is not a plea for Silo thinking and for the subsequent isolation. No team performs well if everyone keeps their ideas to themselves and excludes others from them. But real teamwork always leads to team success. Not to lone fighters who want praise and recognition to themselves.

Can you protect yourself from theft of ideas?

From a purely legal point of view, an idea alone can hardly be protected. The copyright offers little protection in this regard. It is supposed to protect personal spiritual creations from imitators. But the problem is to prove the authorship and at the same time to reach the so-called height of creation. A book, a song, an article always has this. But a single idea, a single word ... difficult.

Fortunately, that doesn't mean you're helpless to steal ideas. You don't have to keep all your ideas to yourself and protect your documents on the computer behind a password so that colleagues cannot look at them. A few tips to help you protect against theft of ideas can:

  • Don't wait too long

    A suggestion to the boss should of course be well thought out, but on the other hand, you shouldn't wait forever before voicing your idea. If you think back and forth for weeks and months, a colleague may get ahead of you. If you have a good idea, use the next meeting to present it.

  • Discuss your ideas in large groups

    That sounds contradictory at first: If you tell a lot of people about your idea, the likelihood increases that someone will steal the idea. On the one hand, yes, but at the same time it becomes much more difficult for an individual to pass the idea off as his own. After all, the entire team knows you made the suggestion - betraying a single person may still work, but who wants to reveal themselves to be a sneaky liar in front of everyone in the meeting?

  • Improve the corporate culture

    To solve the problem at a higher level, a better corporate culture can protect against idea theft. If competitive thinking is constantly encouraged, the theft of ideas is also made more attractive. However, if a real team idea arises, including a sense of togetherness, then all colleagues are successful together and support each other instead of trying to get their own advantage with the ideas of others.

React correctly: you can do that if your ideas are stolen

A particular problem with the theft of ideas: Anyone who complains about the theft of their idea may seem petty or even incompetent in a team. In addition, the argument is not easy, because with one But that was my idea you can’t convince anyone.

In retrospect, the theft of ideas can therefore usually no longer be reversed. It is important, however, that how you react to the theft of ideas should be confident and matter-of-fact be. An angry man always looks bad. The following Recommendations and tips on the other hand have often proven themselves:

  • Check carefully

    The charge of stealing ideas can be quickly formulated. But is it also true? Some of the results are based on the fact that everyone was involved in the creative process - one thought gave the other. Sure, maybe it was your idea that got it all rolling. But you only came to the current result after discussing it with your colleagues. The laurel therefore also belongs to everyone who has contributed. You have to be that fair in a team.

  • Do not complain

    Yes, stealing from other colleagues is ruthless and mean. But neither annoyance nor whining changes anything about it, on the contrary: Anyone who now denounces the boss with the idea thief is not only subject to the burden of proof (which is always difficult), but also quickly as a crybaby in case of doubt. In the worst case, you will end up looking like you want to adorn yourself with someone else's laurel. Therefore: First of all, just clench your fist in your pocket, stay professional and coolly analyze what you have done wrong yourself and where the thieving egomaniac caught you.

  • Talk to colleagues

    The best thing is still the one-to-one conversation. The colleague stole your idea - they know that, and you know that. This eliminates the annoying burden of proof. So confront him and ask him why he stands out at your expense. Very important: Remain factual and objective at all times. Then confidently make it clear to him that you will not tolerate his or her behavior and that if he or she turns into an idea thief again, this will be the end of the collaboration. In short: put him in his place. Most people understand the message and can - especially in private - admit the mistake.

  • change behavior

    What did you learn from stealing ideas? Is your heart sitting too loosely on your tongue? Are you too communicative or too gullible? You should change your behavior, especially in relation to exposed and known idea thieves, and only present and disclose sketches or innovations in front of other witnesses. So no one else can claim the idea for himself. You should also be more careful with such solutions and not leave them open on your desk, for example. In addition, a solution could be to deal more courageously with your own ideas in the future and to simply address and express them in the meeting.

  • Learn to accept

    Even if you don't like to hear that now, sometimes an idea just can't be protected. Despite all the frustration and colleagues with no limits of shame, you remain powerless. The only thing that helps is to swallow anger and be aware that you were ultimately the author. And when others steal from you, the ideas have to be really good. So: carry on! Wherever there is an idea, there are still others. And an idea is not yet implemented. You can possibly shine even more.

How should you NOT react to idea theft?

No matter how big the annoyance is about so much insolence, please do not allow yourself to be carried away into short-circuiting. The consequences can be worse than the theft itself. Therefore, please avoid the following reaction:

  • take revenge

    Revenge has never corrected an injustice - and vengeance revenges itself above all on ourselves. Anyone who steals ideas from the alleged thief to make amends could also be exposed - and then no one will believe a word you say that it was only self-protection or self-defense. It is clear that bullying is also prohibited.

  • Go snappy

    The temptation is of course great to run to the boss immediately and blacken the idea thief there. But that also makes you small and ultimately a victim of the fact that there is no other way to help. It is more confident to first collect evidence that will stand up to an examination. For example, it's better to take screenshots of emails or print them out. Gather evidence - the more, the better. The best way to convict chronic thieves in particular is to collect evidence in secret for a long time and then convict them with overwhelming evidence.

  • Be offended

    That also makes you small. Anyone who sulks after the theft, defiantly withdraws and crawls away insulted, doesn't exactly look like a creative source of ideas. The office is not a kindergarten. Your rhetoric and first external reaction should therefore be different: do not blaspheme, do not pout resentfully, but smile confidently. After all, that wasn't your only flash of inspiration! You have only mild pity for a colleague who has so little to offer that he has to steal from others.

How managers should react to the theft of ideas

The short version: not tolerant. Theft of ideas undermines any form of cooperation and is the humus on which mistrust and resentment flourish. Instead communicate - as a preventive measure - clear values, such as Honesty, fairness and team play. Promote teamwork by rewarding not lone fighters, but always the entire group that has participated in a project. Show that you value individual opinions and encourage those colleagues who may be able to participate in meetings and discussions too shy or too humble are. Who knows what ideas are still dormant here ...

In case you have a wind machine and one Idea thief got lost are: Correct your rating immediately - credit where credit is due. And talk to the employee - in private - on his behavior or that you do not tolerate it. Especially with repeat offenders, you should have a serious appraisal interview.

And for the future: if there is reasonable suspicion, should Always ask managershow the idea or innovation came about - especially if a colleague is particularly enthusiastic about selling it as his own. The fish stinks from the head: The phenomenon can only be contained if managers set a good example and show that the theft of ideas is not a desirable part of corporate culture.

Special case boss: What if the supervisor steals my ideas?

The situation becomes much more difficult when the chronic idea thief is the boss. Accusing your supervisor of stealing your thoughts is strong stuff. For that you need solid evidence - and should act with a lot of instinct on top of that. Who wants to be called a thief by subordinates?

Better here is the (preferably free of reproach) Questioning technique: “I'm always happy that you seem to like my suggestions so much that you implement them straight away. But why do you never mention me? Am I too embarrassing for you? " Every supervisor will understand the hint. And based on the reaction, you have to decide whether you want to continue working for a guy like that in the future.

In the end, however, it is always like this within an organization: You are paid to develop solutions and move the company forward as a whole. Those who prefer to be the star should become an artist.

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3rd July 2020Author: Jochen Mai

Jochen Mai is the founder and editor-in-chief of the career bible. The author of several books lectures at the TH Köln and is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach and consultant.

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